February 21, 2014 was a bright, beautiful, and unseasonably warm winter day.  I had been having lunch with my husband Mike when I received a call from my daughter, Kathryn, that our granddaughter was unresponsive at her day care center.  Kathryn was racing to the hospital to meet the ambulance there.  We bolted from our lunch and arrived at the same time as our daughter and son in law, Ashley.

We paced.  We pleaded with God.  We questioned the staff. We called friends and family to request prayer.  When finally the coroner and homicide detective entered the waiting room and said “I’m so sorry”, our beautiful life, as we had known it, was forever changed.  I do not remember much of the following weeks, but there were many tears, hugs, casseroles, sympathy cards, and prayers.

One week later, the coroner’s report came and again our lives turned upside down.  This was not SIDS.  This was not a heart defect.  My sweet, beautiful, grand daughter was no longer with us because of greed and neglect.

The day care owner, that had been highly recommended, was caring for 23 children, not the 6 that South Carolina law allowed.  Neither she, nor either of the other two caregivers knew CPR, or sleep safety rules. Alcohol and a loaded gun were in reach of the children. My nightmare just continued.  My daughters first child, my first grandchild, my parents first great grandchild had passed away because of greed, because someone wanted more money, because following safety rules was just too much trouble and too time consuming.

I wanted to scream or hit something or somebody.  Darkness descended on me. Then I began to feel the healing power of creativity. I had always painted, but had set that aside when my children arrived and my interior design career took off, but in those dark days I became inspired by the cardinals that seem to suddenly appear in my yard.  Then, a close friend sent me the story of the cardinal.  “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who passed away. When you see them it means they are visiting you.  They show up when you need them the most.  They show up to let you know that your loved one will always be with you.” I began painting cardinals and felt the comfort of their presence.

The cardinal even became the logo for the school that will be named for my granddaughter, The Kellie Rynn Academy.  Kellie Rynn was not the first child to lose their life in an in home day care center. We found out that many other families had suffered the same loss we had.
Kathryn and Ashley were invited to tell Kellie Rynn’s story to the SC State legislature and testify in the DSS over site hearings.  Through that, we began to realize that there were many day cares in Greenville, and throughout the state, that were not protecting the children entrusted to them.

From that sprang the idea of building a day care in memory of sweet Kellie Rynn.  It will be a day care where safety and commitment to the child comes first.  It will be a day care where other day care owners can come for training and continuing education classes to better their day cares, and it will be a childcare that offers scholarships to “in need” working families, because we know that every child deserves a safe nurturing place to spend their days.

My cardinal pillows comforted me by giving me an outlet during those early tough days, and then I began to get requests from others who had lost loved ones.  The pillows became a “go to gift” for other families that were suffering from loss. But, as soon as the paper label that I attach to each pillow, explaining the story of the cardinal, was removed, the buyer lost the significance.

I was referred to Thirty Seven West labels, and my inspired cardinal pillows were complete. Thirty Seven West, patiently worked with me on the perfect wording, fonts and size of custom labels.  Now every pillow that goes to a grieving family has the story of the inspirational cardinal.  These labels have made my custom pillows even more popular, which is wonderful because all of the proceeds from each pillow goes directly into the campaign to raise the funds to build Kellie Rynn Academy.

Kitzi Craig
Kellie Rynn’s grandmother
For more information please email me at kitzicraig@gmail.com